Are Runners Better Off Than They Were 30 Years Ago?

Doug Richie Jr. DPM FACFAS

In the book Born to Run, Christopher McDougall makes the observation that running injuries have not reduced in frequency over the past 30 years despite the perceived technical advances in athletic footwear over this same period of time. He suggests that runners have been ripped off by the hype and false claims made by running shoe manufacturers.

While this assertion is partly true (overall running injury rates have not changed much in 30 years), the assumption that footwear has not improved the life of the runner is false.

Comparing injury rates in runners today to runners 30 years ago is a non-scientific analysis simply because the patient populations are vastly different. Thirty years ago, few women ran marathons and the overall running population was much smaller than it is today. Today’s runners include far more people who are really not suited for running at all.

I am amazed to see so many people who are overweight and non-athletic embark on a marathon training program and succeed today. Much of this success can be attributed to the advances in footwear I have observed in 28 years of clinical practice. Today’s running shoes are more supportive, better cushioned and more durable than shoes made 30 years ago.

Without question, the more common injuries I treated 28 years ago —medial tibial stress syndrome and patellofemoral pain syndrome — are far less common today. I can only attribute this change to the improvements in footwear.

I would be anxious to hear from other readers who have been in practice for 20-plus years to learn if they have similar observations about changes in running injuries during this time period. Feel free to post your comments below.


I think far more people are "completing" marathons today rather than running them.
I am not sure if shoes necessarily cause injuries.....I would think running does. Similar to a gun analogy "Guns don't kill people, people do". Well shoes do not cause running injuries, running does. If you run far enough,long enough or fast enough your risk increases for injury, shoes or no shoes.
I htink of modern running shoes as protection, nothing more. The problem is that the running shoe companies promote that their shoes prevent pronation which implies it will prevent injury. They promote other gimmicks too. Like the new Asics shoe that adjust to a womens menstrual cycle!
I think that is where the disconnect is. In all sports athletes wear gear to protect them...not to enhance their performance. Think of a football player in the leather helmet days. It was for protection. Now the helmets are better but they are still only for protection.
Running Shoe companies should stay on track and make comfortable shoes that protect our feet. They should stop trying to invent the "magic" shoe that will prevent injuries.

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